We’ve all been there. You watch a movie, enjoy it and so take a gamble and buy the video game, expecting it to capture some of that cinematic magic. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t because, in order to cash in on dreamers like us, it’s been rushed to market faster than you can utter the words “Da Vinci Code.” Isn't it just soul sucking when that happens?
The cynical among you may already have Tron Evolution down as one such game that has the potential to disappoint. However, there’s evidence to suggest that by bringing the two entertainment mediums of movies and video games even closer together than ever before, and creating a unique game world that is worthy of the Tron name, Disney may well have created a movie tie-in experience that we can finally smile about. Here's how...
Tron Evolution, the video game, is set to be released prior to Tron Legacy, the action movie, which will arrive a few weeks later. Tron Evolution is a prequel to the movie and therefore a totally separate entity, but its storyline leads up to the events in the film. The idea is that the two are completely separate but will complement each other while also building on the existing Tron lore and universe.
The movie will also reference moments from the videogame. So, if you play the game first you might see something in the movie that you actually did during the game, or something within the storyline that refers to an objective that you carried out in the game. On paper it sounds like a great idea, but it’s also a bit of gamble. It's going to be interesting to see how the two story lines compare and contrast and which one actually comes out on top.
While Disney may have actually created something totally unique with Tron Evolution in regards to how it impacts on the movie, which admittedly is quite exciting, it’s the gameplay that will ultimately come to be judged. And so far we’re suitably impressed, though not totally bowled over and ready to sing Tron Evolution’s praises just yet. The silky-smooth Prince of Persia style free-running, fluid third person combat and fast-paced vehicle-based gameplay, is entertaining, but isn’t particularly innovative.
What makes some of the old concepts, such as free-running (Prince of Persia) or the progressive combat system (any one of a thousand third person shooters,) more appealing is that the whole game is set against the neon-lit, sci-fi backdrops that capture the vibe of the original movie with great style. This new setting, coupled with a striking color palette makes a nice change from the generic locations we typically find in action games, and as a result it feels and looks quite exciting, certainly different to anything we’ve played before.
Combat revolves around the use of upgradeable discs, your main weapon, and you can choose to opt from three different combat stances: Sprint, Standard and Defence. Each stance has its own strength and weakness, for instance you’ll forfeit power in your attacking moves in favor of being able to run more quickly. Special Power moves can be accessed by filling up the energy meters, which you do by free-running and killing enemies.
You can chain together combos and earn XP in the process, which enables you to obtain better disc upgrades. In practice, it’s a fairly simple combat scheme to master thanks to the easy to pick up control scheme, which involves smashing face buttons and using the d-pad to switch in between different disc types. But it also has some depth to it as you mix a range of light and heavy attacking moves with defensive tactics, while utilizing your special powers at every opportunity.
The need to switch between different stances depends on the situation in hand, so it pays to learn the differences between each stance. You are also actively encouraged to keep on the move and use you free-running skills to gain XP and fill up that meter. Gameplay flows tremendously well and it's enjoyable racking up combos and then darting out the way, jumping onto and ledge and then wall running to safety within the blink of an eye. This isn't anything that we haven't already done before, but the setting makes it all that more enjoyable and the temptation to jump on one of Tron's iconic light-cycles is too much to bear.
Not only can you use the bikes to get to and from locations quickly, but you can also take down other players who get caught up in the trail that leads from your back of your bike. The bikes were fairly difficult to control on our first few goes, but they're very responsive and react very well when turning full circle, braking very quickly, or navigating around sharp corners. They also add another layer of strategy to the gameplay, and such is their draw we’re sure they’ll be used a lot in the multiplayer component, alongside the light-tanks. Though we didn’t get to try out the tanks, they seem much slower than the light-bikes but far more powerful, sporting a cannon that can take players out with one blast.
The single player campaign is still something of a mystery. We know it incorporates a lot of disc-throwing combat combined with free-running and bike riding, but we're hoping that the levels are varied enough to maintain our interest for more than a few hours, rather than it just having a good storyline. What we have seen in action is the multiplayer mode, which involves pretty much everything that you learn in the single player campaign.
Dotted around the Tron universe, within the single player campaign, are Disc Stations that you can use to jump straight into the multiplayer arena. This happens instantly and smoothly and any XP that you gain online carries back over into the single player mode. The online experience revolves around fast-paced combat and light-bikes and caters for up to 10 players.
There are four different game modes to enjoy, including Disintegration and team disintegration, which are versions of the classic team-death match modes. Gameplay is extremely fast-paced on the smaller maps and there's a lot of movement and running around because discs auto-track the enemy when they're thrown. On the larger maps, it looks like combat will be a bit more controlled with longer ranged fighting and more use of the light cycles, with wide corridors and open areas that make light cycle fighting perfect.
Bit Runner is an interesting mode. It’s like Oddball with a twist. The person carrying the 'bit' drains with energy while the other players run around trying to get hold of it. As you might expect, there's lots of wall running, jumping and leaping out of the way at the last minute, bashing into other players to get them out of the way and some frantic fights for possession. The fact that the walls carry energy tracks so you can fill up your meter, encourage you to wall run. Visually it's impressive to watch as you move rapidly around the arenas, and the animation is tremendous. You get quite a rush from travelling at speed while players are frantically after you.
The fourth game mode is Power Monger, which offers a slightly different take on the usual capture and defend modes. You have five nodes in an arena but they are interlinked. You have to capture at least two linked nodes to score. As you can imagine there's a mad dash for nodes right at the start of the game and some vicious battles for early possession. It’s a tried and tested game mode in other strong multiplayer games, and there’s no reason believe it won’t be just as compelling here.
Level design is impressive with multiple tiered locations and platforms giving you plenty of scope to utilize your free-running skills. We’ve got no complaints with the mechanics; our avatar handled very well, free running is intuitive and combat is smooth and fluid. What we have noticed, however, is how much free running plays a part in the game. You're constantly on your toes and keen to fill your meter back up to take advantage of the special powers, so you'll spend a fair chunk of time leaping around acrobatically before moving in for the kill.
We've enjoyed our short time with Tron Evolution, but the free-running side of the game has left us with one major concern. There are a lot of people playing who seemed to just jump around at every given opportunity. Players don't stop moving for one second as they want to boost their meters, so there's some frustration from trying to score successful hits on your opponents. You really have to capitalize on those moments when players pause for thought.
Nevertheless, Tron Evolution looks set to deliver a unique experience in terms of how it ties in with the movie, while the gameplay - though familiar - is made all the more appealing due to the stylish look of the universe and the smooth control scheme. In the words of developer Disney, “Tron: Evolution is one of the keys to unlocking the Tron mythology.” For fans of the original Tron, both the new game and movie looks to be an un-missable experience, which is exactly what Disney were striving for by resurrecting such a classic I.P. Only time will tell, but we're very optimistic that the game can deliver on its release in early December.